San Luis Obispo mountain biker Rex Hatter found himself in a standoff with a mountain lion this weekend.
Hatter said he was on a long ride through Irish Hills Natural Reserve on Saturday afternoon, traveling from the Johnson Trail connector to the Froom Creek Trail several miles to the north, when he saw a hiker running up the trail.
“She started waving at me all frantically (and) started talking all freaked out that she had just seen a mountain lion,” recalled Hatter, who has been riding mountain bikes for more than 30 years.
With the hiker’s father on the phone, Hatter said he escorted the frightened hiker off the trail.
Hatter then turned back up the mountain — intending to head the way he came to return to his car, which was the other end of the trail, some four to five miles south.
Just 90 seconds after Hatter started for home, the cyclist said he heard loud noises coming from the creekbed near the trail.
“I looked over and I saw this cat run toward me,” Hatter said. “The thing I’ve always heard was that you don’t run away from (mountain lions) — if you run away, you’re gonna get their instinct going to chase you — so I jumped off the bike and put the bike between me and the cat and just started screaming as loud as I could at it.”
Raising the bike over his head, Hatter said he tried to make himself as large as possible to scare the cougar away.
The tactic worked, Hatter said, and the mountain lion retreated to a safer distance.
A staring contest then ensued between man and beast, while Hatter dialed 911.
“I was afraid to turn my back on him, and I was thinking the last thing I want to do is lose sight of him, because then I’ll be out here in the world just wondering where he is, giving a chance to sneak up on me,” Hatter said.
Hatter said he looked around for a rock or sharp stick he could use to defend himself if the big cat decided to make the first move.
As he slowly inched away, Hatter said, police officers summoned by the hiker arrived and escorted him from the trail.
Hatter said the officers, who carried “long guns,” made loud noises and kept eye contact with the cougar until the group was out of sight.
Hatter said he was glad the weapons were not needed.
“I’d hate to see them hurt the animal, but maybe they could relocate it,” Hatter said.
This is at least the second mountain lion sighting in the area in as many weeks.
On Nov. 14, a woman and her dog faced down a mountain lion at Laguna Lake Mobile Estates near Prefumo Canyon.
On Sunday, the San Luis Obispo Parks & Recreation Department announced that it was closing Irish Hills Natural Reserve and Johnson Ranch open spaces near Prefumo Canyon after multiple mountain lion sightings. A wildlife advisory has been issued.
Hatter said he thinks the mountain lion he spotted may be the same animal seen in the Nov. 14 sighting, based on its facial markings.
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